I have exactly one rule when it comes to Halloween.
Rule #1: Everyone who comes to my door on Halloween gets candy.
I have these rules because I had a racist Southern Grandma. The worst Halloween horror story I ever heard was about that grandma. My mother once told me how her mother would keep two bowls of candy by the door on Halloween. One bowl was filled with Hershey Bars. That bowl was for the neighborhood kids.
The other bowl was filled with candy corns and cheap lollipops. When truckloads of “poor kids” came in from “more rural areas,” to trick-or-treat, they got the crap candy.
When I first heard the story, I was outraged because I thought the poorer kids should have gotten the Hershey bars. I figured they would have appreciated it more than the wealthier kids. How happy would that have made a hungry child? (I was a hungry child, I could empathize.) And what was Halloween for, other than making your chocolate dreams reality?
It took me years to realize that “poor/ more rural” probably also meant “not white.” Even on Halloween, even with children, Grandma went to great lengths not to share with those she felt didn’t belong in “her” neighborhood. I suspect the woman probably congratulated herself on being progressive enough to give those Halloween invaders any candy at all.
Decades later, in Southern California, I have white neighbors with ridiculous rules for trick-or-treating. I’ve heard them berate any child they think they’ve seen before and refuse to give them candy. (How ludicrous is that, in an age of mass-produced costumes?) I’ve heard them tell the teenagers in jeans and masks that they can’t have candy because of their half-assed costumes.
These are not poor neighbors with a limited candy budget, either. They’ve put additions on their houses. They get new cars every two years. They even complain about their giant bowl of leftover candy on November 1st.
They just want an excuse to enforce White People Rules. Like my grandma, those rules are “I must keep someone from getting something I don’t think they should.”
Our neighborhood has gotten very popular with trick-or-treaters in recent years. We have sidewalks and less hills than surrounding areas. We also have a few original owners from the 50s and 60s who give out full-sized candy bars. Plenty of people will drive in with families, park at the nearby school, and go through the neighborhood.
There are kids in strollers, adults in costumes, and masked teenaged boys sprinting from house to house. Undoubtedly some boys hit my house more than once. I still give them candy every time they come up my steps.
Because it’s Halloween. We’re giving out candy, for chrissakes. Regulations have no place in an orgy of free sugar.
Last year, a family came by with a five-year-old ninja and a toddler fairy. A woman in her sixties or seventies, dressed as a witch, followed the children carefully up my steps. A set of Latinx, thirty-something parents watched anxiously from the sidewalk as I let the children pick their favorite candy. The old woman held out a bag also. I put some candy in it and wished her a happy Halloween.
She smiled and followed the kids down the steps.
The mother on the sidewalk called out, “Thank you!” and beamed at me.
I must have looked confused.
“Thanks for giving her candy,” the mom explained. “A lot of people won’t. They say she’s too old. And she doesn’t understand.”
It took ME a minute to understand. The elderly woman had some form of dementia. She thought she was a little girl again. She wanted to go trick-or-treating because what little girl wouldn’t?
And my asshole neighbors refused to give her candy. Because the rule about White People Rules is ultimately that Rules trump compassion.
I wanted to run after that seventy-year-old little girl in the witch hat and give her ALL the candy. But I had other little witches waiting. I waved good-bye to the anxious mother/daughter shepherding her family down the block.
I hope the rest of my neighbors gave her candy instead of judgment.